Sunday, April 29, 2007

Iraqi Artists Look to Spruce Up Baghdad

BAGHDAD - It was something you don't see everyday on the streets of Baghdad, a man squatting on the sidewalk, earnestly dipping a brush into yellow paint, then sweeping it onto a concrete wall.

But a group of Iraqi artists - Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and others - have come together to beautify a stretch of the bleak, gray blast barriers on central Baghdad's Saadoun Street erected to protect the area from car bombings and other attacks.

The murals range from the pastoral to the historical - with scenes from the era of the ancient Babylonian King Hammurabi.

"About 80 Iraqi artists from different parts of Iraq and of different religious and ethnic backgrounds decided to participate in this initiative in a bid to bring happiness and joy to the Iraqis who see these walls everywhere and everyday and can't do anything about it," Talib Muhsin said as he painted a 2 1/2-by-10-yard scene of a palm grove with white birds.

The initiative comes as Iraqis are engaged in a fierce debate over a wall under construction elsewhere in Baghdad.

The U.S. military announced earlier this month that it was building a three-mile long, 12-foot tall security barrier in Azamiyah, a Sunni stronghold in northern Baghdad whose residents often fall victim to retaliatory mortar attacks by Shiite militants following bombings usually blamed on Sunni insurgents.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say the plan was aimed at protecting the neighborhood and was one of several security measures that were part of a strategy of enforcing so-called "gated communities."

Residents and Sunni leaders complained it was a form of discrimination that would isolate the community.

Muhsin, a 42-year-old artist who graduated from Iraq's College of Fine Arts in 1987, said that as long as authorities insisted on building the walls, they may as well look nice........

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